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CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION: TEN THEMES IN THE STUDY OF LIFE Introduction Biology, the study of life, is rooted in the human spirit. Biology is the scientific extension of the human tendency to connect to and be curious about life. The adventure of biology takes us: Into a variety of environments to investigate ecosystems. To the laboratory to examine how organisms work. Into the microscopic world to explore cells and the submicroscopic to explore molecules in cells. Back in time to investigate the history of life. This is the most exciting era for biology. The largest and best-equipped community of scientists in history is beginning to solve problems that once seemed insolvable. Genetics and cell biology are revolutionizing medicine and agriculture. Molecular biology provides new tools to trace the origins and dispersal of early humans. Ecology is helping evaluate environmental issues. Neuroscience and evolutionary biology are reshaping psychology and sociology. Unifying themes pervade all of biology. A. Exploring Life on its Many Levels 1. Each level of biological organization has emergent properties Life’s basic characteristic is a high degree of order. Biological organization is based on a hierarchy of structural levels, each building on the levels below.
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At the lowest level are atoms that are ordered into complex biological molecules. Many molecules are arranged into minute structures called organelles, which are the components of cells. Cells are the subunits of organisms, the units of life. Some organisms consist of a single cell, others are multicellular aggregates of specialized cells. Whether multicellular or unicellular, all organisms must accomplish the same functions: uptake and processing of nutrients, excretion of wastes, response to environmental stimuli, and reproduction, among others. Multicellular organisms exhibit three major structural levels above the cell: similar cells are grouped into tissues, several tissues coordinate to form organs, and several organs form an organ system. For example, to coordinate locomotory movements, sensory information travels from sense organs to the brain, where nervous tissues composed of billions of interconnected neurons, supported by connective tissue, coordinate signals that travel via other neurons to the individual muscle cells. Organisms belong to populations, localized groups of organisms belonging to the same species. Populations of several species in the same area comprise a biological community. These populations interact with their physical environment to form an ecosystem. Investigating biology at its many levels is fundamental to the study of life.
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